The Asian History Carnival #19 is now online! Thanks to everyone who submitted links for nomination!
Nominate posts for the carnival here or use the tag http://del.icio.us/tag/ahcarnival/. If you find useful online resources related to Asian history you can tag them with http://del.icio.us/tag/ahresources
I am also really hoping we’ll get some volunteers to host the next few carnivals. Please send me an email at kmlawson at froginawell.net if you are interested in hosting the next carnival, which will be held, ideally, April 4th, with the next one on June 6th..
Upcoming Events at the Donald Keene Center — Spring 2008
1. Thursday, 2.7 On the Trail of the Urban Nomad in the Tokyo of the 1980s
2. Wednesday, 2.13 Woman on the Other Shore: An Evening with Mitsuyo Kakuta
3. Friday, 2.22 A Memorial for Edward Seidensticker
4. Thursday, 3.27 Householders: The Reizei Family in Japanese History
5. Monday, 4.7 Japanese Style Shifts and Social Identities: The Case of JFL Learners and their Host Families
6. Wednesday, 4.16 Wartime Diaries by Japanese Writers
7. Friday, 4.18 Translation Prize Ceremony
8. Thursday, 5.1 Reading and Writing Sino-Japanese
I participated in a symposium on February 1st hosted by the USC-Huntington Early Modern Institute, on the topic of early modern periodization in East Asia. It was an exciting event with mostly big-name speakers (I was drafted in as a replacement!) including Kenneth Pomeranz, R. Bin Wong, John Wills Jr., Samuel Yamashita, John Duncan, and Jahyun Kim Haboush. The audience was substantial, prompting the organizers to move us to a much bigger conference room. I counted more than 60 people, implying a great deal of interest in the topic.
It seemed clear from the start that some presenters assumed that “early modern” referred to something real in the histories of Qing, Choson, and Tokugawa Japan, while others saw the term as at most a useful interpretive and comparative tool. The discussion devolved (predictably? unfortunately? amusingly?) into a debate about comparative history. Some participants suggested that using the period “early modern” compromises our ability to study East Asian histories on their own terms, forcing research and analysis into categories invented in certain parts of Western Europe. Others unpacked “early modern” in specific historical and cultural contexts. Still others argued that periodization schemes like “early modern” presented historians of East Asia with the opportunity to engage with historians of Euro-America, to highlight the scanty evidence marshaled in the narrative of the rise of Western modernity, and to move Asia to its rightful place in world history: the center. In my paper on the material heritage of Tokugawa Ieyasu, I made the argument that museums are where much popular education about the early modern takes place, essentially unacknowledged (and, unfortunately, unexamined) by historians of “early modern” East Asia.
In the final discussion of the day, as debate swirled back and forth on this issue, one fact became clear, perhaps winning the argument on the side of the “early modern” doubters better than any grand attempt at persuasion could have done: in the huge crowd of graduate students, scholars, and a few visitors from the general public, only one historian of Europe or America was present, and she was essentially required to be in attendance because of her role in founding and naming the USC-Huntington Early Modern Institute. The hackneyed phrase from the movie “Field of Dreams” comes to mind, except in reverse: even if you build it, they won’t come. In other words, even if a bunch of famous historians of East Asia hold a symposium on a term invented in European history to discuss its broad relevance; even if that event is hosted by an organization dominated by historians of Euro-America; and even if it is held at one of the biggest universities in southern California where lots of historians congregate; they (meaning historians of Euro-America, the group that the comparativists want to engage) won’t come. Of course I care about how badly East Asia is represented in the media, in public education, in much popular culture, and in the writing of many (not all, of course) prominent historians of Europe and America. But if the attendance at this symposium is any indication, adopting this comparative terminology, which often is not a particularly good fit for the diverse regions of the world, is not the answer.
A recent exchange on H-Asia mentioned the Asian Studies Toolbar, which I first read about in March of last year when the maker, John Noyce (“a librarian turned writer/historian”), wrote about it on the same list. At the time I was very disappointed to read that it only worked on Windows. However I just successfully downloaded and installed it on Firefox running on my iMac, and it is AMAZING. It allows instant searches of a variety of Asian engines and blog aggreggators, it lists hundreds of Asian academic and popular journals, newspapers, and other sources as live RSS feeds, and it even includes blogs related to Asia – including the three flavors of Frog in a Well. Links to online atlases, image banks, and other sources really make this a useful tool.
It was a very busy conference for me, but my meetings didn’t leave me a lot of time for panels.1 None, in fact, except for our own, which was great fun. I did get to do some social stuff, including the Cliopatria/IHE dinner, a visit with the Progressive Historian himself and an evening with a college friend that ended up at a used bookstore (see below).
I did think our panel was quite fun, though a bit limited by the absence of Nathanael Robinson (and his paper). That said, though, I think Alan Baumler and Rebecca Goetz did an excellent job squaring the circle of our presentations, a job that would have been complicated by another thesis. One of the members of the audience was a British grad student who’s doing microhistory in the same regions I studied in Yamaguchi: it was a pleasant, but shocking, experience to realize that I’m not going to be the only person who knows something about this.
My own paper is an outgrowth of thinking about ways to connect the history of Japanese emigration with contemporary Japanese immigration issues. The return migration of Nikkei from Brazil, the Philipines, North America, etc., is a striking case: Japan permits easy remigration of these groups because they are expected to be culturally assimilable in a way that Chinese, Korean or Philippine immigrants wouldn’t be, but the assimilation which has taken place over three or four generations has made that considerably more difficult. Why, then, didn’t Japanese authorities (or the Japanese people in general) realize that assimilation would create culturally distinct Nikkei? My theory is that pre-’45 nationalism obscured the normal patterns of assimilation which take place in multi-generational immigrant communities: certainly, out-migration to Hawai’i and the Philippines was thought of like colonial frontier settlement more than as the transfer of population to a new host culture. Histories of emigration and studies of Nikkei communities by Japanese scholars continued to obscure assimilation by focusing on the way in which traditional values and recreated traditional institutions bolstered the overseas community, taking their successes as evidence of innate Japanese qualities — perseverence, education2, cohesion. This is particularly stark when compared with English language histories of immigration, which emphasize assimilation as the very foundation of success in the new host culture, and emphasize efforts at modernization and entrepreneurship.
Manan Ahmed’s paper was much more interesting, a historiography of the tension between conquerers as national heroes and heroic resisters as local icons. The local counternarrative of resistance got very elaborate, as entertaining stories of weaker figures wrecking vengeance on powerful ones often are. Ultimately, as he described it, the heroic invader — heroic from the standpoint of constructing a unified national narrative, anyway — is dehistoricized and turned into an inoffensive (and uninspiring, I’d guess) “unifier” while local resistance is effectively erased from the national narrative.3 In other words, and I don’t remember who said it this way, but someone did, the life is drained out of the biography until the hero becomes “nice.”
I do remember Alan Baumler’s comments drawing the papers together by highlighting their biographical and genealogical aspects, the way in which pre-national figures can be integrated into national self-narratives as ancestors and the way in which shared ancestry can bridge other modern/national divides. The idea that values are inherited through blood is a powerful common error with which we regularly contend. I was just lecturing this week on nationalism, and the way in which it is based on an historical fiction which obscures margins, minorities and migration.4 There was some discussion — initiated by Rebecca, if memory serves — about the way in which many nations cleanse their histories by a similar sort of biographical emasculation or justify invasions and other atrocities by a sort of victors’ hagiography.5
- In spite of which, I’m in the running for latest conference blogging [↩]
- There’s a whole research program yet to be undertaken with regard to educational values. The standing assumption, based on the high educational achievements of Nisei, is that there was something inherent in traditional Japanese culture which valued education, which is patently untrue for the rural laborers who make up a large portion of the immigrant population. The successor thesis — that the Meiji emphasis on education and “self-help” was the key factor — assumes a rapid transmission of these ideas from city to country which is a bit hard to accept. The basic question of literacy rates among immigrants versus their sending communities isn’t really clear yet, and a fair examination of the other questions really hasn’t been done. [↩]
- note some of the similarities to Hiraku Shimoda’s argument [↩]
- I didn’t use the alliteration in class, but I’m going to have to remember it for next time [↩]
- I was reminded, though I didn’t get a chance to mention it, of the Enola Gay controversy [↩]